Cancer and Exercise
I used to think people who came to exercise class were all trying to lose weight or tone up to look better in their clothes. Eventually I learned that is not the case. People are in the gym for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with aesthetics. Over the years I have seen too many succumb to some form of cancer. The ones who seem to recover quickly and stay strong are the ones who continue to work out.
One friend who had breast cancer and received chemotherapy and radiation continued her two or three workouts a week through the whole process. Her doctor encouraged her to continue her aerobic activity. Some days she was apparently more tired than others. It was an inspiration for me to see her push through the class and I was rewarded with her smile of gratitude at the end.
More recently another friend went through the same process and I would marvel at her smiling through an hour of dancing. I wanted to cry when she showed up one day with light fuzz where her long brown hair used to be. But she didn’t want my tears because she was looking forward all day to working up a sweat and losing herself in the music.
Exercise is a good distraction.
For the hour or two patients are in the gym or participating in a group exercise class they have something to focus on and away from their next treatment, discomfort or worry.
You’d think these patients might be too tired for any activity because fatigue is the most common complaint. But according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, research has found that at least 40-50 percent of people exercising during treatment had less fatigue. It makes sense if exercise increases muscle strength, bone density, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. A stronger body can fight disease better.
Exercise also releases endorphins in the brain, which improves mood and counteracts depression, a common side effect of treatment.
Once patients are finished with cancer treatment they should continue their exercise regimen to keep it from reoccurring. The National Cancer Institute sites numerous studies showing a lower risk of returning cancer in the breast, uterus, prostate, colon and lungs in those who exercise. Keeping weight within the normal Body Mass Index (BMI) is a key factor because extra weight is associated with increased production and storage of hormones that can contribute to growing tumors.
The message here is a cancer diagnoses is not the time to sit down and wait out the treatment. You can take a proactive role in your recovery by moving or continuing your regular fitness activity working heart and body muscles. First talk to your doctor before exercising. He or she might suggest a physical therapist or specialty trainer for a specific regimen. Or if given clearance, be sure to include both aerobic and weight training plus stretching for flexibility.
Just do what you can and for motivation always remember how much better you’ll feel after the workout and the end of treatment. My friends are still exercising with me and so far cancer free.
Physical Activity and Cancer: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet#q6
Exercise During Treatment: https://www.nccn.org/patients/guidelines/content/PDF/survivorship-hl-patient.pdf